by Alan Weisman
Imagine humanity suddenly vanished from the earth. Wiped out by a virus, raptured up, abducted by aliens, whatever. How would the Earth recover? Would it, at all? How long would the effects of changes we have wrought here last, how long would edifices we had built remain (perhaps for future intelligences to discover and puzzle over)? Weisman explores all these questions in detail, including the variables between how things would differ if we had time to turn stuff off before we disappeared. In the process, he makes very clear how terrible the things we have done are, and thus it became one of those books that both fascinated, educated and absolutely horrified me.
I learned about vast storage spaces underground (some dug into salt domes!) that harbor extremely toxic and volatile waste. I learned about how huge the explosions and radioactive fires would be if our chemical production and nuclear energy plants were suddenly unmanned. How quickly the subterranean transport systems around the world would flood, how the tweaking we have done with animal and plant genetics would spread (or not) through biological gene pools. I have a new loathing of plastics, now. I never again want to purchase a plastic product that cannot be recycled onto something else. Because plastics are not part of nature. They break down smaller and smaller until you cannot even see them, but they never biodegrade. This means that in the ocean, the little plankton and microscopic filter-feeders are dying of constipation when they eat teensy plastic bits. And what happens when the base of the ocean\’s food chain ALL DIES? I am horrified. I think we should worldwide quit creating any new plastics right now and only reuse what is extant. My kids? I am buying them no more plastic toys, unless they are obviously recyclable. Wood, cardboard, even metals are fine. NO PLASTICS! *
I do have a new fondness for copper and sculpture, by the way. I have always been fond of copper, it\’s my favorite metal (um, how many other people have a favorite mineral?) And I\’ve always liked sculpture, but now that I know that bronze will far outlast (thousands of years) all the paintings in the world, my appreciation for this art form is even more heightened. Parts of this book are even encouraging. The sum conclusion is that even though we have overburdened and contaminated and poisoned and denuded our beloved Earth, it will eventually recover. Life will survive, even if we don\’t, and become something new and interesting again.
And all that is just barely scratching the surface. Read this book!! It has given me so much to think about and bolstered my resolve to even more environmentally conscious in my purchases and actions and eating habits that in my own small way, affect our Earth.
*After writing this little rant on plastics, I did a search and found several ways old plastic toys can be recycled. I can\’t just throw them in the recycling bin and there isn\’t a toy recycling center option here. Other than reusing for craft projects or donating those in relatively good condition, the most useful option seems to be downcycling, where plastics are used as filler in other materials. Even that doesn\’t seem to be the best thing either, though…
Rating: 4/5 …….. 416 pages, 2007